Hard Times Café
This location is closed
Just as a Philadelphian would never eat a cheese steak in San Francisco and a Marylander wouldn't touch a crab cake in Illinois, a resident of Cincinnati would avoid chili in Alexandria, Va. But that shouldn't stop Baltimoreans from trekking to Columbia for Cincy chili from Northern Virginia. See, the small Hard Times Café burger-and-chili restaurant chain, based in Alexandria, serves a facsimile of Cincinnati-style chili (and also Texas-style), and its northernmost outpost is in Columbia.
On our most recent trip, we started off with a plateful of onion rings ($4.99). We're not sure what makes these rings so good (could be the beer-battering, we suppose), but they're thin, crispy, greasy, and come with an unneeded but complementary spicy dipping sauce.
Oh yeah, the chili. I got the Cincinnati-style--differentiated from traditional chili through its finely chopped ground beef and Mediterranean spice mix--served "5-Way" ($6.95), meaning it was dumped over a plate of spaghetti and topped with kidney beans, cheddar cheese, and onions. Like my dining partner's Chili Bubba (your choice of two chilis over two pieces of corn bread and smothered with cheese, tomatoes, onions, and sour cream, $6.99), my chili was too lukewarm. But both dishes were filling and tasty, exactly what chili is supposed to be, whether in Cincinnati, Texas, or the central Maryland burbs.